The Role of Money in Charter Schools

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Money can not be divorced from human activity. So it is with schools and the frustration many years ago about the cost of bloated school administrations. The flattened management structure, often referred to as lean, came to influence school financing during the 1990s along with other business ideas such as “bottom line.” One solution to administrative bloat was to allow charter schools, mostly funded by conservative groups, to siphon money off from the main allocation for all public schools. 

A recent article in the New York Times engendered this response from the founder of two charter schools:

To the Editor:

Blue Wave May Be Charter Schools’ Black Cloud” (front page, Nov. 10) does an excellent job of sketching the charter school political landscape and has laid bare the conundrum that many of us in the charter movement are facing.

New York Times

Progressive Ideas

The great majority of the educators we work with are progressive, and their independently managed schools mirror that progressivism in their pedagogy and community interactions. I helped found two such schools in western Queens, and I know how fortunate my neighbors feel to have their children attend them.

New York Times

Conservative Advocacy

The flip side is that the advocacy and political leadership of the charter movement has been fed by money that is decidedly not progressive and has imperiled the charters’ legacy. There is a very good progressive case to be made for charter schools, but the movement must first rediscover its democratic, educator-empowered roots and take a more humble approach to changing the world.

New York Times

Steve Zimmerman
Sunnyside, Queens
The writer is the director of the Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools.

New York Times

The Promise of All Reforms

So it would be helpful to work on public schools with public school advocates who have the children’s best interests in mind. Those advocates can be conservative, but their use of money cannot be for private gain—either for them personally to make a profit, or to start a new school instead of working with existing schools, or simply to pull needed resources away from valuable public school needs.